Literature Study GuidesItPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

It | Study Guide

Stephen King

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It | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The Shadow Before (Six Phone Calls) | Summary

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Summary

On May 28, 1985, Mike Hanlon makes six phone calls from his home in Derry and reminds each of the recipients of a promise they made in 1958. It is time for them to come home.

The first call is to Stan Uris, who lives happily and quietly with his wife, Patty, in the Atlanta suburbs. Despite their parents' concerns, he married Patty right out of college and has built a successful accounting firm. Stan and Patty's only unhappiness is they don't have children, and Stan believes he is the problem but he doesn't know why. After Mike calls, Stan grabs a beer and takes a bath at 7 p.m. Patty thinks this is odd, and when she goes to check on Stan, she finds him in the tub with his arms cut open. He has scrawled "It" on the wall in his own blood.

The second call is to Richie Tozier, a Los Angeles radio DJ who has gained national fame with his repertoire of humorous voices. Richie has his travel agent arrange his trip to Derry and infuriates his station manager with the news of his imminent departure from town. Richie doesn't know when he will be back, and he can't explain why he must go to Derry because he doesn't remember.

The third call is to Ben Hanscom, a ruggedly handsome internationally renowned architect living in Nebraska. Ben goes to his local bar and drinks an enormous quantity of whiskey. He looks like a dead man on his feet but remains stone sober. He gives the bartender, Ricky Lee, two lucky silver dollars for his children and shows him an H-shaped scar that had disappeared before tonight. Ben drives away in his Cadillac.

In New York Eddie Kaspbrak, owner of a lucrative limo service, packs a duffel bag full of medicine after Mike's call. His wife, Myra, begs Eddie not to leave her. Myra begs to go with Eddie to take care of him, but Eddie says she must stay and drive Al Pacino's limo the next day. Eddie notices Myra's resemblance to his mother before he kisses her goodbye.

Fashion designer Beverly Marsh Rogan's abusive husband, Tom, overhears her on the phone with Mike and flies into a rage when he sees her packing a bag. Beverly usually cedes to Tom's will, but tonight she is determined to leave for Derry. She fights back, breaking his teeth and striking his testicles with the belt he plans to use on her. She grabs her suitcase and runs to the street, laughing as she disappears into the night.

Bill Denbrough gets Mike's call at a rented house in England. Bill has become a successful author of horror novels, and he and his wife, the actress Audra Phillips, are working on a film adaptation of one of his books. Bill tells Audra he has to go and says he has started to remember details of his childhood and his brother's death. He doesn't know why he must go to Derry, but he made a promise, and he asks Audra to stay in England, where she is safe.

Analysis

It's nonlinear narrative allows the reader to experience the events from the characters' perspective. King is a master of horror because he has also mastered the art of suspense. Chapter 3 raises more questions than it answers. The reader doesn't know much more than the six characters Mike calls about a promise they made decades before. The reader has to uncover these characters' lost memories along with them.

Even though the characters don't know why they must return to Derry, Chapter 3 emphasizes the strength of their compulsion to go there. Richie, Bill, and Eddie put their careers on the line; whatever Mike has said to them, whatever promise they have made, it is more important than the considerable success they have achieved in life. Whatever they are going to face, the narrative indicates it's terrifying beyond imagining. Ricky Lee thinks Ben looks like he is already dead—a chilling observation. Mike's friends seem to believe going back to Derry may be a one-way proposition. Bill and Eddie insist their wives stay away from Derry for their own safety.

The terror becomes clear when Stan's suicide is revealed. Stan is portrayed as a sensible and stable man. Nothing about his lifestyle indicates rashness or impulsivity. Patty is alarmed when he decides to take a bath early in the evening because it's not part of his usual schedule. His suicide and the one-word message he leaves cause Patty to forever question what It is; what could be so terrible as to drive her sensible husband to open his veins in a bathtub? In this respect the reader is a small step ahead of Patty. Chapters 1 and 2 have established the creature's relationship with water and plumbing, so the bathtub as a location for the suicide makes symbolic sense. Stan is sending a message, along with the word on the wall: he's indicating what the creature is and where it lives. Although the creature hasn't physically traveled from Maine to the Atlanta suburbs, its spirit is there.

Most of the people Mike calls have achieved wealth and success. It is somewhat unusual for a group of acquaintances from the same small town to achieve such success; it seems somehow connected to their relationships and to the mysterious reason they race back to Derry after Mike's phone call.

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